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The scene is set in a castle in Seville, home to Count and Countess Almaviva. It would be impossible to explain the full story line in this space. For that I would need a wall in Churchill’s War Room. I’ll settle on saying it’s an opera of intrigue, a complicated story of relationships between masters and their servants – and the complications all involve sex. The virile and jealous Figaro must keep a watchful eye on his intended (the beautiful Susanna) when his master, Count Almaviva is lurking about. But neither of them are a match for Countess Almaviva. She sets a trap for her philandering husband and ensnares more people than her net can hold. A love triangle is too tame for Mozart. He’s got himself a love hexagon.
If the plot seems frenzied (it is), focus on the music that froths like a fountain, bubbling exuberantly in all directions. After all, it’s the music that anchors any opera. Though famous for exquisite solo numbers, Figaro is also intimately conversational. And that’s a good thing, for without all the chat, there would be no hope of knowing what is going on. The ‘recitative’ (a style of musical delivery which allows a singer to adopt rhythms of ordinary speech) is quick and complex, bearing the weight of an intricate plot.
Singing Figaro is Calgary native Daniel Okulitch, noted for his powerful stage presence and resonant bass-baritone. Susanna is sung by Canadian soprano Nikki Einfeld. Google her and hear for yourself a ‘coloratura’ (singing characterized by agile runs and leaps) that is positively aerobatic. Her stage presence is engaging, witty, and yet demure – the right recipe for Susanna. Aaron St. Clair Nicholson sings Count Almaviva and Rhoslyn Jones portrays the Countess. Both these young singers are natives of British Columbia, making this a fully Canadian operatic feast.
Mozart’s prowess is fully realized in how the orchestra actually takes part in the musical intrigue. Listen for key changes that mark crucial moments in the story. And in a whimsical orchestral joke, as Figaro is lamenting the fickle nature of women, there is a prominent accompaniment from the horn section, an allusion to the dramatic convention in which a pair of horns growing from a husband’s head indicates he has been cuckolded. I admit I may not catch this moment of musical hilarity, but I’ll be listening for it.
The genius of Mozart is legendary. Though he lived only 35 years, he composed over 600 works, beginning at the precocious age of five. By six, he was performing on violin and keyboard for European royalty. He was just 30 when he completed The Marriage of Figaro – his high-spirited, effervescent and timeless treasure.
Performances on April 24, 27, 29, May 1, 4. For tickets and more information: 604/683-0222 www.vancouveropera.ca